An Emerging Form of Bias in the Workplace – “Mask Shaming”
As employers start to welcome (and require) more face time in the office from their employees, it is important to be aware of, and take actions to prevent, an emerging form of bias in the workplace – “mask shaming”.
Jurisdictional and/or occupational mandates aside, employers need to recognize that some employees will choose to mask well past the current pandemic status. There are many reasons for this.
Some have personally battled COVID-19 or continue to cope with an array of persistent symptoms stemming from their illness. Others may have lost a loved one to the virus. Yet others may be concerned about their own medical vulnerabilities and health outcomes, or those of family members with whom they share a household.
Personal biases need to be kept in-check and need to be addressed by management if they are not. If an employee chooses to wear a mask, it does not signify that they are sick with the virus, unvaccinated, or both. Others may see wearing or shunning masks as political statements to which they reflexively react either positively or negatively. Comments such as “you must not be vaccinated!”, or a client that challenges an employee to take off their mask because they sound “too muffled” or because they “can’t see their smile”, are all forms of “mask bias” and “mask shaming”.
Strategies for Normalizing Mask-Wearing at Your Company
- Have legal counsel develop a statement to disseminate about the company’s continued support for COVID-19 safety protocols, expressly identifying the choice to wear masks as an acceptable and personal one, along with a statement that harassment over this choice will not be tolerated.
- Integrate “masking” as a form of bias in periodic implicit bias or anti-harassment training initiatives, in addition to return to office onboarding messaging and leadership development initiatives.
- Include masks as a clothing item in your company’s dress code and grooming policies to normalize it for the company and its culture.
- Ensure that your company’s leadership/management are advised about how they are expected to respond to complaints involving this issue.
- Decide how your organization will communicate with third-party clients or customers about an employee’s decision to mask in the event of challenges from these parties.
It is important for employees, as well as customers and vendors, to accept any person’s decision to not “de-mask”. The decision to mask or not needs to be regarded as a personal choice of safety and comfort for which employees should not be shunned or – even worse – harassed or discriminated against.
ASA Staffing Today, 3/17/2022. “Dear Littler: How do we handle “mask shaming” when we return to work?“, Littler Mendelson PC, USA, Cindy-Ann L. Thomas, March 14, 2022.
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